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First Sunday of Advent and the New Translations

Here is the homily I shared with parishioners this Sunday as we began Advent and using the new translations of the Roman Missal.

1st Sunday in Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37
November 27, 2011

Today we start a new church (liturgical) year.  One might think we would start a new year on Christmas or Easter.  Well, we do start the new year based on Christmas.  After all, the way we count the years is based on the year of Jesus’ birth for it marked a new beginning.

But before we get to Christmas where we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, we need to get ready for it.  So we have Advent as time to get ourselves ready.  The word advent comes from Latin meaning coming or arrival.  In Advent, we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ first coming at Christmas but also it is a time to prepare ourselves for the second coming.  We are to ask ourselves “are we ready?” 

Whatever makes us not ready needs to change.  Advent is a time for that.  We don’t know when the Second Coming will be.  That’s why Jesus says “Be watchful!  Be alert! . . . for you do not know when the lord of the house is coming.”  So, get ready today.

Are we going to change overnight?  Probably not.  What we need is what is asked for in our opening prayer today, “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.”   We may not be perfect but we are to always seek Christ.  Advent is a time to begin.

Today, as we begin this new church year, we also begin using our new translations of the prayers we use at Mass.  This is not a coincidence.  The bishops intentionally picked this time as a time of new beginning.

It also fits what Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Be Watchful!  Be alert!”  If we don’t pay attention today we will end up saying the wrong prayers!  Knowing that using the new translations is going to take some effort we might ask why even change the prayers?  

Well, I hope you have been reading the articles in the bulletin (since I wrote them) that talk about the changes.  There have also been several articles in the Catholic Courier.  There has even been stories on the news about the changes.  One of those stories on the local news referred to “major changes.”  I know because a couple of weeks ago I went into the store wearing my collar and the cashier said that she had something about major churches coming in the Catholic Church and wondered what they were.

I told her they weren’t really major changes.  Nothing about how we celebrate Mass is changing, just the words.  And a lot of the words aren’t changing.  It just seems major because we are so used to the words we have been using it seems so different.  I would even bet if 30 years ago I had put these new translations in front of you next to what we were just starting to use and giving you a choice you would pick some of the new.  Now, it just seems strange because it is new.

Advent is about coming close to God, not just for Christmas, but for our whole lives.  We have new translations for the same reason, because we seek to come closer to God.

It isn’t that something was wrong with the old translations.  It’s more a matter of refining them.  Some of the prayers like what we say at Communion come from scripture (the story of the centurion) but you won’t realize it because of translations differences.

The words articulate our faith.  Getting the words right can help us appreciate the scriptural origins of some of our prayers such as the Sanctus where we now sing Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts or the words we will now say at Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  It sounds strange to us because it is not what we are used to but it comes from Luke 7:6-7, the story of the Roman Centurion who comes to Jesus because his servant is about to die.  He believes that Jesus has the power to heal the servant but he also believes that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof but that Jesus can heal the servant without even going to him.  Is our faith as strong?

People don’t understand the word consubstantial in the Creed but it needs to be a special word to signify the relationship between the Father and the Son.  Consubstantial is certainly not a word we use in everyday language.  This week I checked a dictionary on the Internet and consubstantial is in the dictionary.  But then I thought maybe they just added it to the dictionary because we are using it at Mass so I checked a Webster’s dictionary I have had for 24 years and it’s in that dictionary too.  It means of the same substance.  We use the word consubstantial in the Creed to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son.  That is something so unique it should be described by a word that we don’t use in everyday conversation.  When the Creed was originally written in the 4th century, they realized this and developed a new word.

At least one of you is probably think, “Well, what will happen if you say the old prayers or totally wrong words because you get confused?”  Will you burn in Hell?  Absolutely . . . not. 

I don’t believe God is going to condemn us if we get mixed up.  Matter of fact, I think God will have a good laugh watching us when we get confused.  But I think it is important to learn the new prayers for two reasons.

First, to be open to God speaking to us and, secondly, because it will get us to think about what we are actually praying.  We have saying the same words for a long time.  How often do you stop to really think about what you are saying?

So we pray with open hearts that God always help us to draw closer to him.

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